By Bill Finley
I never understood why so many people putting together racing broadcasts didn’t understand their viewers or their viewers’ wants. We’ve gotten a lot of babble, features on the friendship between the goat and the favorite in that day’s stakes races and some nauseating banality and silliness. Even NBC, on its Derby show, forces figure skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski down our throats, which often produces some cringe-worthy moment. I’ll give NBC as pass because the audience for the Derby does in fact include a lot of non-racing fans who probably enjoy a dose of fluff.
For me, it had gotten to the point where I rarely watch racing on TV. My ADW feed is just fine. I can watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it. And I can avoid all the things that annoy me about racing broadcasts on TV.
That’s why I didn’t tune into the new “Saratoga Live” television programming NYRA has done throughout the meet until recently and watched the show in its entirety for the first time on Monday. I had heard from enough people that the show was excellent and that it was worth a watch. They were right. This show is very good, at last a racing program that understand the player and the fan and speaks to them, not down to them.
For too long, racing thought it could attract new fans through television, a concept that may have worked 30 years ago when all we had was six channels, there was no Internet or Netflix and there weren’t casinos on every other block in America. There never was a chance that John Q. Public was going to blindly stumble onto TVG, get entranced by the coverage of the sixth at Turf Paradise, fall in love with the sport and head out to his local racetrack the next day. That person was simply never going to watch TVG, even for a second or two.
A much better idea would have been to produce excellent programming that spoke to the existing customer base, entertained and informed them, further enhanced their interest in the sport and either maintained them as a racing consumer or encouraged them to bet even more. Really, that’s how all the major sports do it. In “Saratoga Live,” at last, that’s exactly what we have. Everyone doing TV or simulcasting presentations everywhere should watch and learn.
On most days, the show begins at 4 pm and ends at 6 and will include that day’s feature race. It can be seen on Fox Sports (FS2), MSG+ and Altitude Sports Network. It’s also available on the NYRA app. Jason Blewitt is the host and keeps the wide-ranging show running smoothly. Like everyone on the team, which includes NYRA’s executive producer for television programming Tony Allevato, Blewitt understands that he is speaking to people who know the game, like the game and want insights that will help them cash more bets. It’s no coincidence that Allevato and Blewitt are not only fans but have been known to place a bet or two in their days around the racetrack.
The rest of the team includes retired jockey Richard Migliore, analysts Maggie Wolfendale and Gabby Gaudet, trainer Tom Amoss and handicapper and noted wiseguy Andy Serling. Each one has a role.
Gaudet and Wolfendale grew up around the racetrack as the daughters of Maryland-based trainers and they know the game, particularly when it comes to horsemanship. Wolfendale is very good at inspecting the horses in the paddock and telling the fans which ones look fit and ready to run. Her insights can definitely turn a losing bet into a winning one. Migliore watches the horses warming up on the track and will report which ones have caught his eye and seem to be acting like they’re really ready to run. He’ll also analyze races after they’ve been run in a way that only a jockey can. Serling is the handicapper. His gives picks, opinions and is particularly adept at picking up valuable pedigree nuggets. If a horse who is making its first start on the turf had a half-brother win first out on the grass in 2006 and pay $54.60 he will know about it and tell you about it. On this day, Amoss was not involved in the show, but he adds the type of perspective that only a trainer can.